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How It All Began

26th January 2015

There are green shoots starting to appear all around the Mud and Wood House and you might be starting to focus on the approaching building season. You might even intend to start a project this year. One piece of advice we always give is: preparation, preparation, preparation. Even if it means postponing your build for a year (or two), you should never rush into a project without doing plenty of research, acquiring some skills and experience, and maybe even some materials. Between stumbling on the idea of building with cob (I found a book on cob on a shelf at work back in 2004) to excavating the ground for the actual build, there was a gap of four years .... Good things come to those who wait.

colin ritchie in the mud   feile butler at the hollies 2005

The photo on the left was taken of Colin "walking" on the Dusky Sound Trail in New Zealand, back in 2003. He obviously already had a penchant for mud.

That's me above, in front of the yurt at the Hollies, Co. Cork, back in 2005. Cob Cottage Company taught a 10-day cob workshop. We had our theory sessions in the yurt and helped build a tool shed and an outdoor social area for our practical experience.

linda smiley teaching at the hollies 2005   ianto evans teaching at the hollies 2005

Linda Smiley of Cob Cottage Company checks that our construction is plumb with one of our fellow students (left).

Anyone who has ever met Ianto Evans will recognise his rainbow braces. You can see our traditional cob wall in the background. We were working on a bale-cob wall in the foreground. After completing the course, we were absolutely convinced that we had to build our home this way.

yosemite   yosemite

It was only a matter of days after finishing the cob course when Colin finally proposed ... after 5 years. Mud has some pretty powerful properties......

A year later we were married and headed off to to the wilderness of Yosemite, en route to Oregon where we wanted to do more research into cob building. You know you have the bug pretty bad when you want to go looking at mud houses for your honeymoon.

colin ritchie in the heart house   feile butler in the heart house

First, we stopped off in Linda and Ianto's very beautiful and very tiny (120 sq. ft/11m²) Heart House. Linda and Ianto are very big on building just big enough.

If you have ever met them, you will know that they themselves are rather tiny, and they have built this little house around them - it fits them like a glove. If you have ever met us, you will know that we are rather tall. I love this photo of Colin in the Heart House kitchen.

feile and colin at the laughing house

Then we headed on to the School of Natural Building in Coquille to spend a wonderful time with Linda. She was right in the middle of building the Laughing House and it was great to be involved in the project and to meet some of the other natural builders passing through the site.

We got to stay in the Laughing House, a very special place and a little bit of our hearts will always be there.


We got back to Ireland, inspired and convinced that building a cob house was the way to go .... and confident that we really could do it.

By this stage, we were already living in a mobile home on our site. We took plenty of time to design the house ... this is something that should never be rushed. If you intend to live somewhere for the next 40 or 50 years, if you can ... try spending all 4 seasons exploring what your site has to offer before you finalise your design.

Planning permission was granted in February 2007. But it wasn't until one bright morning in September 2007, 3 weeks after our first baby was born, that we began to excavate the ground.

You can see a lot of our raw materials stockpiled in the photos: rocks, tree trunks, stone, timber, plywood, a bath .... and of course, earth. If you intend using salvaged materials on a build, make sure you have as many of them as possible before you start. For tips on salvaging building materials, click on this article.

  beginning on site
  excavating the ground for the mud and wood house

If you can see yourself starting off on a similar journey and are looking for some inspiration, come along to our free Open Day on Sunday, 8th February between 10:00am and 5:30pm. We will be giving tours and will also show footage of how we built the house and will be happy to answer any general questions you may have. So maybe see you here.

Copyright 2015, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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